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Appellate Court Takes a Second Look at Employer Liability in Car Accident Case

Whenever an accident is caused by a driver who is “on the clock,” there is always the potential issue of employer liability under a legal doctrine called respondeat superior. Respondeat superior is an old Latin term that translates to “let the master answer,” and it has been applied by courts across the country to hold employers responsible for the negligent actions of their employees in some circumstances.

Damaged Red CarOf course, not every accident involving an employee can be attributed to their employer. Several criteria must be met in order for the doctrine to apply. Generally speaking, the accident must have occurred while the employee was performing a work-related task. Also, the doctrine will only apply to true employees rather than independent contractors. A recent case illustrates the difficulty in determining whether conduct is within an employee’s scope of employment.

Fountain v. Karim:  An Employee Causes an Accident in the Employer’s Vehicle

Karim worked for the federal government. Since he was assigned to a remote location, he was provided with a vehicle to use while he was at the remote office. However, Karim would generally use his own vehicle to get to and from the remote office. Karim was prohibited from using the work vehicle for personal use unless he had his supervisor’s written permission. However, several times in the past, Karim had obtained verbal authorization from his supervisor before using the car and then obtained formal written consent upon his safe return.

Karim was preparing for a work-related trip for which he planned to take the government vehicle. He had submitted a request for written permission but had not heard back from his supervisor by the time he left the office. He took the car nonetheless. Along the way, he planned to stop at his hotel and then commence his trip. However, on the way to his hotel, he caused an accident, seriously injuring Fountain.

Fountain filed a personal injury lawsuit against the federal government under the theory that Karim was a government employee acting within the scope of his employment when he negligently caused the accident. The federal government opposed Fountain’s claim, asserting that Karim had not obtained the proper consent to use the vehicle, and thus he was not acting within the scope of his employment when he caused the accident.

The trial court noted that Karim did not obtain actual consent and granted the government’s motion to dismiss the case. Fountain appealed. On appeal, the court held that a finding that there was no actual permission to use the vehicle doesn’t end the inquiry because in a case like this, Karim may have had implied permission to use the vehicle, based on the previous times he was permitted to take the vehicle without obtaining actual written consent. Thus, the appellate court sent the case back to the trial court to conduct further analysis regarding whether Karim had implied permission to use the vehicle.

Have You Been Injured in a Georgia Auto Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Georgia auto accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Based on the circumstances surrounding the accident, there may be several parties from which you may recover. It is very important to have a dedicated personal injury attorney review your case to ensure that you are not missing out on any potential avenue of relief. Call Miller Legal Services at 770-284-3727 to set up a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced attorney who will patiently discuss your case with you. Calling is free and will not result in any obligation on your part unless we can help you obtain the recovery you deserve.

More Blog Posts:

Case Arising from Low-Speed Accident on Slick Road Results in Defense Verdict, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, September 20, 2016.

Court Adopts and Applies “Discovery Rule” to Wrongful Death Cases Brought Under a Medical Malpractice Theory, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, October 12, 2016.